Exclusive Interview: Samuel Dawe & Paul Holbrook Talk Gut-Churning Short Film HUNGRY JOE

In our exclusive interview, Samuel Dawe and Paul Holbrook discuss their gut-churning short film HUNGRY JOE!

By David Gelmini

The new British horror short film Hungry Joe has received highly positive reviews during its festival run and was even nominated for a London Critics Circle Film Awards for Best British Short of the Year. So needless to say, it’s something horror fans should check out immediately. The film has also been uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, and since we awarded it a positive review ourselves, we highly recommend Hungry Joe to our readers.

Laura Bayston stars in Hungry Joe as the mother of a boy named Joe, who won’t stop eating. Because the doctors won’t take her concerns about his eating problem seriously, Laura starts to consider taking more drastic measures to stop Joe from devouring everything in sight. It’s not a film you should watch while you’re eating, as it’s filled with gross-out imagery, but Hungry Joe is still one of the most harrowing and thought-provoking horror shorts you’re likely to see in a long time. Just be prepared for the sight of maggot-infested leg injuries.

Hungry Joe was written and directed by Samuel Dawe and Paul Holbrook, and the duo were kind enough to grant us the following interview about the making of the harrowing short film. We discussed everything from how they came up with the idea right down to the process of filming and the use of practical effects over CGI, so if you enjoyed Hungry Joe, you’re probably going to want to read on to learn more about the making of the acclaimed short.

Dread Central: Can you give an overview of how you came up with the idea for Hungry Joe?

Samuel Dawe and Paul Holbrook We were on a long car journey back from a film festival trying to stay awake. We got to talking about our favourite “monster of the week” episodes of the X-files, which led to us stumbling on an article about a guy called Tarrare. He was an alleged cannibal who lived in France during the 1700s. He had a rare condition where he could eat enough food to feed a small army, but still be starving and never gain weight. We immediately thought it would make a cool horror short and spent the rest of the journey plotting out how we’d tell that story. For practicality’s sake, we relocated it to contemporary England and we refocused the narrative around what it would be like to be a parent to someone with the condition. By the time we got home, we had a rough shape of the film.

DC: One thing the film does well is combine social realism with a slightly more fantastical horror angle. How were you able to pull this off?

SD and PH: Everything we make is set in a working-class environment, because that’s what we’ve always known growing up and those are the locations we have easy access to on a practical level. So it felt very natural to weave in those social realism elements. We didn’t do it for political brownie points. It would’ve felt weird for us to NOT work in that space. Characters from this walk of life are underrepresented in the genre and we’re always surprised how few films draw a direct line between poverty and horror.

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Still from Hungry Joe

DC: The colour grade also seemed particularly grey and uninviting. Why did you go for this look?

SD and PH: We wanted a grounded look, so that when the more fantastical elements pop up, they’re that much more jarring. Our DoP James Oldham was a massive help in finding the exact balance between a real-world, tactile look and something a bit more heightened and scary. We wanted a lot of detail in the image too so that the gore and gross-out bits landed harder. I remember we went back and forth for a while over the grade for the food shots because we didn’t want to lose the shine of the grease and slime. It’s a weird one with food shots, because if you nudge the light and colour even slightly in the wrong direction, the stuff starts to look tasty. We obviously wanted it to look as vile as possible.

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Still from Hungry Joe

DC: Laura Bayston was amazing as Joe’s mother, Laura. Can you talk about her casting?

SD and PH: We’ve known Laura for about 6 years and cast her in smaller roles in our previous shorts. We’d always known she was great, but we’d never written anything with an adult female lead. When we came up with this character, we never really considered anyone else. We even named the character after her. We still get messages all the time heaping praise on her performance so it was definitely the right move.

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Still from Hungry Joe

And why does Joe only have one line of dialogue?

SD and PH: The bit where Joe tells Laura he loves her was right there in the first draft. I think we wanted to remind people that – however repulsive he might become – he is still a human being. By that point in the film, most of the audience are fully willing Laura to leave. So it was important to show them the reason why she doesn’t. However much she might be disgusted by him, he’s still her son. Some innate part of her knows she has to look after him.

DC: At one point in the film, Joe was shot in the leg with a pellet gun, and we later see the maggot-infested injury. This must have been a grotesque challenge to create with practical effects?

SD and PH: We love body-horror, so we were really hyped to finally get a chance to work it into one of our films. One of our biggest regrets is that the edit didn’t allow us to showcase the work our make-up team did even more. Catherine Vondrak and Sophia Haden really delivered on the gore front, but a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor.  What they did with Joe’s buck-shot wound was so much grosser than even we imagined.

DC: You were nominated for a London Critics Circle Film Award for British/Irish Short Film of the Year. It must feel pretty great to be reaping the rewards of your labours?

SD and PH: It’s definitely nice to be in all these conversations about awards and everything. Particularly flying the flag for the horror genre – which isn’t always very well represented in that arena. But mostly, we’re just glad to know that people like it and that it’s finding an audience. It felt like quite a niche idea when we were developing it and there was definitely some doubt about whether or not anyone would get it. So it’s massively validating to get such a response.